We all experience the ups and downs of emotions brought on by events in our lives.
Mental health conditions go beyond these temporary and common reactions. They are medical conditions that can cause intense changes in our mood and functioning.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) community can face mental health conditions just like the rest of the population. However, the LGBTQ experience maybe even more intense due to isolation, prejudice, and other social issues. Knowing the challenges you may face as a member of the LGBTQ community with a mental illness and how to find LGBTQ-inclusive providers can help ensure a more positive outcome for you.
Mental Health Conditions and the LGTBQ Community
LGBTQ individuals are almost up to 3 times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition such as major depression or generalized anxiety disorder. Fear of coming out and being discriminated against for sexual orientation and gender identities can contribute to the development of depression and anxiety. LGTBQ youth are 4 times more likely than the general population to attempt suicide. LGTBQ people also experience substance abuse disorders at 2-3 times the rate of the general population. Substance abuse disorders often co-occur with mental health disorders and can complicate the recovery process.
LGBTQ people often experience stigma and prejudice based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. They also have to deal with the societal bias against having a mental health condition. Some people report having to hide their sexual orientation from those in the mental health system for fear of being ridiculed or rejected. The history of homosexuality having been treated by the mental health system in the past as a mental illness is likely a contributing factor to the reluctance LGTBQ individuals have in seeking treatment.
The Chronic Stress of Prejudice and Stigma
The causes of elevated rates of mental illness among LGTBQ individuals are not a mystery; while there have been some gains made in the destigmatization of being LGTBQ, destructive bigotry and intolerance remain deeply embedded within certain communities, institutions, and families.
LGTBQ individuals experience “minority stress” stemming from a variety of factors including social stigma, prejudice, denial of civil rights, abuse, harassment, social exclusion, victimization, and rejection by their families. Rates of mental health conditions are especially high in bisexual or questioning individuals. Though not all people will face mental health challenges, discrimination or violence, many people report less mental well-being and satisfaction.
The LGBTQ community is at high risk for suicide. The risk increases when an individual lacks peer support or faces harassment. For LGBTQ people aged 10–24, suicide is one of the leading causes of death. LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely and questioning youth are 3 times more likely to attempt suicide, experience suicidal thoughts or engage in self-harm than straight people. Between 38-65% of transgender individuals experience suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide).
Family support plays a particularly important role in affecting the likelihood of suicide. Someone who faced rejection after coming out to their families was more than 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide than someone who was accepted by their family after revealing their sexual orientation.
LGBTQ young people stand out as a group in need of significant support from the mental health community. They often face fear, hatred, and prejudice in school, with friends, in the community, and at home, which can lead to higher risks of self-harm and thoughts of suicide. LGBTQ teens are six times more likely to experience symptoms of depression than the general population. Additionally, LGBTQ youth struggle in coming out to family members, friends, classmates, and teachers, especially those that are not accepting of the LGBTQ community.
Early intervention, comprehensive treatment, and family support are the key to helping LGBTQ youth on the road to recovery from a mental health condition. There are many resources available to help teens and young adults, including the It Gets Better campaign (https://itgetsbetter.org) and The Trevor Project (https://www.thetrevorproject.org). The Trevor Project provides a national, 24 hour, confidential suicide hotline for LGTBQ youth (866-488-7386). The Trevor Project also provides an online chat and confidential text messaging (text “Trevor” to 202-304-1200).
Finding a Counselor
If you are aware you need counseling, you may be reluctant to seek it out because you fear facing ignorance or discrimination. While these concerns are completely understandable, it is important to seek help. Directories, such as Therapy Den (https://www.therapyden.com/) require the counselors in their listing to indicate whether or not they have experience in working with LGTBQ individuals.
Ideally, you will find a provider that is LGBTQ- friendly and knowledgeable about the specific cultural considerations and issues faced by LGBTQ individuals with mental health conditions. Comfort with your counselor is essential in order for you to be open and feel safe. Come with questions you want to ask so that you can be better prepared to share your concerns. After your initial visit,
think about your interactions. Did this person seem at ease with you? Did they talk openly about your sexuality or gender identity? Did you feel comfortable?
Treating mental health conditions in the LGTBQ community is both personal and political. In order to foster wellness for the LGTBQ community, our culture must become an equitable, safe, and welcoming space where sexuality and gender-based violence, discrimination, and oppression have no place. Further, it is essential that LGTBQ individuals receive the informed, sensitive, and personalized care they need to recover from mental illness.
If you are in need of counseling, reach out to us at Safe & Sound Counseling.
I have over 15 years of experience of working with individuals and families, first in child welfare, and then in mental health counseling. I have a Ph. D in Counseling, and am an Interfaith Minister. I work with clients desiring to include all of the aspects of the self in therapy-emotional and spiritual.